When I was studying in Germany, I had two long weekends that were built into the program specifically to encourage us to travel (shout-out to IES Abroad for that decision). For the longer of the two weekends (four days), I decided to fly to Liverpool to enjoy three days of Beatles and England, my two favorite things.
Or, it was supposed to have been three days anyways. KLM had a different idea.
My flight out of Stuttgart was late enough in the morning that if I caught the earliest train from Freiburg, I would be able to get there on time (saved on a hostel!). As I groggily got on the train, I saw four of my course mates at the far end of the car. I walked over and greeted everyone - turns out they were also on their way to the airport, on their way to Amsterdam. This meant that we were to be on the same flight, as I had a layover in the Dutch capital on my way up.
Upon arrival at the airport, we breezed through security, went to our gate, and then sat there. And sat. And sat. Soon, the time of our delayed departure came. And yet we continued to sit. Finally, the gate employee announced that the plane had mechanical troubles and the flight was cancelled. Not delayed, cancelled. Everyone in the gate got up to make their way to the KLM desks in the check-in area, but the five of us had moved so quickly at that announcement that we were back out of security before the next person had probably even rounded the first corner. We were poor students eager to travel, we couldn't afford to have just lost all of that money or the experience!
The good new was that all five of us were placed on the next flight. The bad news was that it was not for another four hours. After I had settled my layover situation with the check-in man, we were all handed €10 vouchers as an apology. Seems a bit cheap, but whatever. As Matt's expression shows, we were duly unimpressed with how our day was going. I did at one point tell that that I'm scared of flying, and Kenny (in the yellow) told me to not worry. "No plane I'm on will crash, I've just decided that that won't be a life experience I will have, so you're fine." To this day, I am jealous of that mentality.
Finally, the flight rolled around. It is not long from Stuttgart to Amsterdam, barely an hour. However, there was rain in Amsterdam that day so it was a bumpy landing. As I clutched my aisle seat's armrests, I heard my name from near the back of the plane. I turned and saw Kenny lounging in his own chair, waving a thumbs-up in the air. I smiled in spite of the nerves, and felt a tad calmer.
Once we touched down and de-planed, I bade them farewell as they headed off. I, however, had another four hours to kill before my replacement connecting flight. I had some Chinese at one of the airport's many food courts and then just walked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth some more. At least this flight wasn't cancelled, nor was it bumpy.
The original plan had been to arrive in Liverpool around sunset, but instead it was 11pm. I was exhausted and decided to spend the money on a cab rather than wait for a late bus. Upon arrival to the hostel, the owner and several young Australian employees were awake to greet me. They even fed me, which was very kind. As I ate, they asked why I had come to Liverpool. When I told them, the older owner got a huge smile on his and jumped up to sift through his desk. "Here, you might like this!" He handed me several small pocket-sized posters of various Beatles shows. I was then shown to my room, which happened to be in the workers' room. They had overbooked themselves apparently, and as I was a solo traveler I was easy to put in with them.
This was my first time back in the English-speaking world in two months. While today, I am used to living for years in non-English speaking countries, this was my first time going so long. I had also proven particularly unskilled at German (true story: at the end of the semester I jokingly apologized to my teacher for being so terrible at the language, and he responded with a pat on my arm and a sad sigh, "it's all right..."). I had been looking forward to a weekend-break back away from German. So imagine my amusement when I left the hostel the next morning only to discover that the building right next to it was...the German church of Liverpool.
I made my way through the neighborhoods towards the city center. I love British architecture, and have always been charmed with their houses in particular. I cannot overemphasize the excitement I had when, years later, I moved into my own British house in London. Not just because I was living in London but because of the house itself. Most Brits would probably have looked at it with disdain (it was...uh, objectively not a nice place to live), but I just loved it.
On my way towards the city center, I passed the Liverpool Cathedral. It is no old beauty (it was only built 120 years ago). But what it lacks in age and, in my opinion, beauty, it makes up for with impressive size. It is the longest cathedral (as measured by outside length) in the world, and the fifth-largest overall. It's also the third-tallest building in Liverpool. I did not go inside, but I did admire the sheer size from the sidewalk.
Also on the way to the center, I passed Liverpool's Chinatown. Again, I did not venture inside but it did contain my favorite building in the city, in the shape of the...falling room? I don't know what it is, but I sure liked it! As Liverpool houses the oldest Chinese community in Europe (established in the 1830s), I would expect nothing but the best architecture here!
My destination was the Albert Docks, where the city's museums are clustered. My first stop (for which I was so excited for I did not even have breakfast first) was The Beatles Story. My love for the fab four is why I was in the city, after all (details on that side of the weekend here). However, I couldn't actually find the place. This was in the pre-smart phone era, and I did not have a city map with me. There were signs that pointed to the docks, but they were only so specific. As in, I found the docks themselves but they're a large place, I couldn't find the actual museum.
Finally, baffled, I called my mother in Minnesota (without an international phone plan, so you can imagine what my phone bill was that month) to ask her to please google where I should go. Yes, I could have asked a local, but my mother also liked the Beatles nearly as much as I do and I wanted to include her on this journey. As it was only 3:30am in Minnesota, she was a bit displeased. That is, until I told her where I was. Then she was instantly awake and at her desktop, searching Google maps. "What intersection are you at?" After a couple of seconds, she gave me clear directions and off to the museum's door (or, well, line, it's a popular place) I stayed on the phone until I got to the actual entrance, hanging up with the promise that I would give her every detail of what I saw.
After I was done with the museum, I ran off to the ever-present Pret A Manger in order to grab something to eat. I then headed back to the building a dock away from The Beatles Story, where the National Museums Liverpool is. As with other national museums in the UK, entrance for each is free. Liverpool is far more than The Beatles, and I wanted to visit the various exhibits.
The museums are housed in one building, with each floor accommodating a different museum. The first one I went to was the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which is located on the basement, first and second floors (or second and third floors to me, an American who doesn't use the 0-floor system). Liverpool played an important role in the British Empire, as it was a port city for trade and emigration. It was this maritime connection that grew Liverpool from a small fishing village to the city it is today.
(Fun fact insertion: while doing research for this section, I came across the meaning of "Liverpool" - a pool or creek with muddy water. Charming!)
Anyways, to give you an idea of just how huge Liverpool was in the trade world, by the late 19th century 40% of all world trade passed through its docks. The White Star Line (it's former headquarters pictured) sprang up out of this industry, offering passenger ship cruises to various "New World" locations. As the movie "Titanic" discussed, while the ship was built in Belfast its owners were in Liverpool, which is why the city's name was branded on the ships stern.
The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the Lusitania, who had been on her way to Liverpool when she was torpedoed. The floor also touches on Liverpool's role in World War Two, as well as a "life on the sea" exhibit, but it was the Lusitania section that most interested me, like a moth to a tragedy flame.
The second floor was mostly dedicated to the Titanic, There were many items on display that had both been taken from the Atlantic, and also from other ships to indicate what they would have looked like. I did not note as to which of those two options the dress and life vest represented.
The rest of the second floor was dedicated to maritime art and ship-buildings but, once again, those exhibits did not interest me as much as gazing at physical objects that connected me to a story I have heard about since I was young.
I exited the Merseyside Maritime Museum and headed up to the top floor of the building, which housed the International Slavery Museum. As I mentioned above, Liverpool was a huge trading port. It was the British corner of the Golden Triangle. Ships with various goods, often guns and ammunition, left Liverpool bound for West Africa. The goods were either sold or bartered for slaves, who were then brought them to the "New World". There the slaves were sold. The money was used to buy goods such as tobacco, rum, and sugar, which were then brought back to Liverpool. And now there is a one-floor museum dedicated to this shameful chapter in the city's history.
As I exited the stairwell, I was struck with how many black people there were. The museum was relatively crowded, and I was one of the only white people inside. I would like to say that was a fluke, but when I went back to the museum a few years later, the case was the same. It's not just black people's history, y'all, come on.
The museum itself is done well. There were three sections - life in West Africa (especially interesting for me, as the second time I came I was on vacation from Senegal), enslavement and the Middle Passage (the journey in the ship from Africa to the Americas), and the period's legacy. The maritime museum was just as well done as this, but we all know about the Titanic. If you go to Liverpool, please do not skip the International Slavery Museum.
I made my way back down the stairs to the ground floor. Upon arrival, I noticed that I had missed a floor of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, as there was a sign pointing down to the basement. I headed down and found myself in a peculiar collection called "Seized!" dedicated to items that the UK border force has confiscated over the years. Past that was a room discussing the role Liverpool played in the mass European immigration to the "New World" in the 19th century. As an American used to the other side of that heritage coin, it was really interesting to see it talked about from the "Old Country" perspective. When I walked outside to the sunny October day, there was a nearby statue dedicated to all of these people who had chosen to take a chance in America (or Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, etc).
As a side note, sure is "interesting" seeing a country that is anti-immigrant paying homage to its own emigrants. Oh, excuse me, expats. (For further explanations about British immigration laws and hypocrisies, please see my Medium account).
I walked around the docklands, taking in the port city vibes. My college/university town of Duluth is also a blue-collar port city, and I have always loved places that carry this vibe (other favorites are Baltimore and Glasgow). In addition to turning one of the old dock buildings into the aforementioned museums, Liverpool has also ensured a lovely pedestrianized area along the docks, and a ferris wheel for those so inclined.
At this point it was mid-afternoon, and I decided to hold off on the Magical Mystery Tour (again, details here) until the next day. Instead, I wandered around until I stumbled across the Liverpool One shopping center. It was an outdoor mall, of which I had only seen in southern California (where an outdoor shopping experience makes much more sense). As malls are always a good place to kill time, I window shopped and grabbed lunch (from a cashier with a damn thick Liverpudlian accent) before stumbling across the movie theater. "The Social Network" had been released recently, but Freiburg only offered movies dubbed in German. Excited to have an English-movie experience, and with a movie I had been wanting to see, I bought a ticket and headed in.
This was when I discovered that British theater stalls offer what we Americans call kettle corn, and the Brits call the sugar option. It was also when I discovered that the Brits don't have buttered popcorn as an option, much to my chagrin six years later when I was actually living there and going to movies every few months. But anyways, excited about my kettle corn, I settled into my seat. While waiting for the trailers to start, I found a bracelet in the cup holder, and kept it for a few years as a fun souvenir (sorry to the person who probably checked the lost-and-found for it!). The movie itself was fantastic (as is most anything written by Aaron Sorkin). Even though it was a Saturday evening, it was a beautiful weather and the movie had already been in theaters for two weeks, so the room was relatively empty. The most memorable moment for me was a scene when the Winkelvoss twins are in Oxford and insult the UK. This led to several angry noises from my fellow movie-goers. I felt like a weird spy as I sat listening to them get angry at two of my fellow-countrymen.
I left the theater to night, even though it was only 6pm. Liverpool is, after all, quite far north. I headed back to the hostel after this, and relaxed for about an hour before deciding to go back out for an evening at the Cavern (where The Beatles got their start). I changed into the nice dress I had purchased earlier from the H&M at the Liverpool One. While doing my makeup in the communal bathroom mirror, three girls came into the bathroom in Halloween costumes (it was the last weekend in October). I watched them get ready with a pang of jealousy - Halloween has always been one of my favorite days of the year, and this was the first year I wasn't doing anything for it (yeah yeah, woe is me, whining while on vacation in England). One of the girls was dressed as a clown, and asked the others if they knew of any jokes that she could use throughout the night. Without realizing I was speaking, I piped up, "what's brown and sticky?" All three girls looked at me. "A stick!" I replied. That has always been my favorite joke. They didn't seem as convinced by its glory however, so I just bade them a good evening as I left the room.
I googled where "The Cavern Pub" was and headed the mile back to the center of Liverpool. Upon arrival at the pub, however, I realized that rather than the actual Cavern, this was a generic pub that was simply capitalizing on the name. I ordered a drink, but sat in the corner alone and as soon as I finished it I decided to head home.
I had left my iPod at the hostel, which was unusual. I normally like to walk with headphones (still do), but for some reason that evening I had decided against it. Thank goodness for it. A mere two blocks from the hostel, I checked the road before entering the intersection but apparently had not checked well enough. I saw the headlights, but it was noise of the car that led to me realize just how close it was. I ran as fast as I could towards the sidewalk as the taxi slammed on its breaks. Both it's driver and passenger jumped out. "Are you mad?!" the driver shouted at me, while the passenger simply stared at me, in shock. I was also in shock, and just stood there kind of staring at the ground. But when the driver screamed, "well, are ya?" at me, my emotions bubbled up a little and I yelled back, "yes!" and then turned around to walk away. Another man on the sidewalk had seen all of this and had rushed over to help. "Are you ok?" He asked, in a combination of urgent and calm. "Yeah, thanks" I said, somewhat breathlessly. I spent the rest of the evening curled up a bit fetal in the bed, and it took me a few days to really calm down from the brush with death. I think what happened was a combination of road speed being faster than I had thought, and forgetting that the Brits drive on the other side of the road so I had double-checked the wrong side of the road. Either way, it scared me a lot and also scared at least three men near me.
The next day, I slept in (it had taken me quite awhile to fall asleep the previous evening, due to obvious reasons). The rest of the day's adventures can also be found in A Magical Mystery Tour (third time linking it on here, you can't get away!) as it was a very Beatles-focused day.
The next morning, it was time to go back to the airport. I caught the bus to the airport. The John Lennon International Airport, as it is called, and visitors are reminded of with quotes and various Beatles-owned items throughout the terminal. And happily, my flight back to Stuttgart (again, through Amsterdam) had no problems this time, and I was back in my Freiburg apartment by evening.